I'm sitting pretty and I don't know why
I found somebody, said he'd make me fly
Wrapped me up in ribbons then he left me to die
Wrapped me up in ribbons then he left me to die
- "Ribbons" by Ingrid Michaelson
Far too many maudlin thoughts paired with far too much alcohol leave Dan reacting slower to Serena’s advances than he should. He doesn’t push Serena away the first time she kisses him, (he’s sad enough to embrace his worst instincts and simply enjoy being wanted) but when she leverages herself onto his lap, he pulls back.
“Why?” she asks, tugging on his hair to angle his mouth towards hers.
He pushes her shoulders gently. “We can’t do this.”
“Yes we can.”
He pushes her away again, firmly enough this time that she slides off his lap, her heels clicking on the floor. “We shouldn’t. Blair —”
“Blair is with Chuck right now. You saw the pictures.” She slides a hand up his thigh to the waistband of his dress pants, hooking her fingers and tugging at his belt. Dan grabs her hand and drops it back down to her side. Blair is with Chuck right now. He’s going to be sick.
“Not that drunk.”
Whatever flattery he felt at Serena’s initial pursuit of him gives way to wariness. It’s not like Serena to be so dismissive of him. Or of Blair, for that matter.
“Serena, what’s going on here?”
She freezes for only a second and then shrugs, trailing a hand up his chest. “What do you mean?” It’s such a poor attempt at faking nonchalance. That more than anything tells him his instincts are right. They’ve all lied to one another enough over the years he recognizes it clearly.
“You’ve had plenty of chances to tell me you still want to be with me. Why now?” Serena avoids eye contact and reaches behind him for her phone propped up on the bar. She fiddles with it, turning it over and again in her hand, and then stuffs it in her bra.
“It seemed like a moment. That’s all.”
“Is this about your mom? Did she say something to upset you?”
Serena backs away from him, “Wow, Dan. I don’t have to listen —” she abruptly stops her sputtering, all pouty lips and hurt wounded eyes. He reaches for her hand to bring her back.
“Is this about Blair?” Serena flinches and something leaden and certain settles in his gut. Dan nods, exhaling a heavy sigh. “You’ve been weird about her all night. You were going to tell her, weren’t you?”
“I can explain.”
“You were going to tell her if we slept together?”
He heads for the door, hastily buttoning up his shirt as he puts distance between them, likely missing a few holes along the way. He doesn’t slow down even as he hears her follow.
“I wasn’t lying about loving you, Dan.”
He turns on his heel and Serena startles a little at his abrupt change of direction. “When did this become normal?” She looks confused, her brow furrowed. “All of us doing this shit to each other? How is this normal?” It’s not something she can answer, he knows that, but he still waits to see if she’ll say something. When she breaks eye contact, looking down at her shoes, he leaves the bar.
He gets into the first cab that pulls up and lets the driver go for a few blocks before he settles on a destination. Back to the loft, a bar, or heading straight to the airport and leaving for Rome immediately — all those options appeal but he settles on The Empire. There’s not a particularly good reason for it. If Serena and Gossip Girl are right the Chuck and Blair reunion tour has started. The last thing he wants is to witness it but he has to know.
Once he arrives at The Empire, Dan’s nerves fail him. He can’t bring himself to go into the building and he finds himself standing off to the side of the entrance taking deep breaths. He keeps telling himself anything will be better than the not knowing, but still he stays where he is.
A black sedan pulls up to the curb at the exact moment Chuck Bass storms out of the building and gets into it. If he wasn’t so depressed he’d be impressed at the synchronicity of it all. Blair must be close behind but the car pulls away from the curb without any indication Chuck was waiting for someone to join him.
Maybe Gossip Girl got it wrong. Maybe Blair only went to The Empire to end things with Chuck once and for all. The shard of hope barely forms before Blair is running out onto the street. She looks devastated, her eyes wide and watery, but she is still so painfully beautiful.
“Miss Waldorf, Mr. Bass just left,” the doorman informs her.
“Did he say where he was going?”
Dan would like nothing more than to slink away without talking to her, but she turns and spots him. He does everything he can to keep his expression blank, their eyes locked on one another. When Blair flicks her eyes to where Chuck’s car was, like she’s considering running after him, that’s all Dan needs.
He nods, doing his best to smile. His cheeks feel stretched thin — everything feels stretched taut and thin — wonders exactly how maniacal he must look.
“Okay,” he says, mostly to himself. Whatever he’s feeling must be akin to relief because a bit of the dread that’s been lodged in his gut all night releases. He doesn’t have to worry about Blair leaving him for Chuck anymore — it’s happened. And yes, it’s excruciating, but it happened. It’s over now. He can move on.
A long walk home suddenly sounds like the best idea he’s had all night — maybe enough walking will burn off all the alcohol and this feeling. He’s made it a block when he hears her run up behind him.
“Dan!” He tucks his chin to his chest and speeds up his steps. “Dan, stop! I can explain.”
Hearing the exact words Serena said to him is what gets him to stop. She runs in front of him, her chest heaving as she breathes.
“You missed the party,” he says. Now would be the time for her to offer that explanation, but as she struggles to find the words, he finds he doesn’t want them. What truth could they possibly illuminate?
“I know,” she says, shifting from heel to heel.
“You want to be with him?” Blair stops fidgeting and stands up straight, her eyes locked with his. She nods. “Well then good luck, I guess.”
He turns away again.
“I didn’t want this to happen. I —”
“What did you want to happen? How did you see this ending?” It’s another question she doesn’t have the answer to and Dan stops his frantic question asking to take another deep breath. He knows better than anyone what she’s been through these past two years. So many things she wanted and expected for her life got blown up or taken from her.
“Look,” he says, “I was wrong.” This admission clearly surprises her but she doesn’t say anything. “I thought I knew what Chuck meant to you, but I obviously don’t get it and it wasn’t fair for me to —” He runs a hand over his face, exhausted. He needs a vacation. Just say it. “This might make me the world’s biggest sucker for even suggesting it, but I leave for Rome in a week.” She knows all this — she’s the one who deployed her series of color-coded spreadsheets to meticulously plan their trip.
“I know,” she says.
“And you still have a ticket.” Blair’s eyes widen as she takes in his meaning, and then Dan feels embarrassment heat his face. Oh, god. He waves his hands, backing up, trying to erase the words from the air between them. “You know what, forget I said anything, just — go find Chuck.”
The day after she potentially loses three of the most important people in her life, Blair sits in her room paralyzed by the suddenness of the events. She keeps refreshing her email and checking Gossip Girl, but sooner or later she needs to leave her room. Running away to Paris with her mother is a tempting prospect.
Serena invites herself into the room as Blair is tracing her fingers over the details of her ticket to Italy. Last night she told Serena she wanted her gone for good and yet here she is. There’s something comforting about the fact that she and Serena are never really through with one another. The thought confuses her because the same idea when applied to Chuck often depresses her. Their eyes meet in the mirror as Serena sits on the edge of her bed. Usually it takes them a bit more time to come back together, though. Either Blair’s threats are taken less seriously than they used to be or Serena’s gotten more adept at navigating them.
“What are you doing?”
Against every self-preservation instinct she has Blair finds she wants to talk about this with her. “Dan won’t answer my emails.” She turns around, still holding the ticket. “What are you doing here?”
“I came to tell you something.”
“Oh. You have more to say about how I’m the worst person alive?”
“No, this is actually about how I am.” Serena tucks a strand of hair behind her ear and worries her lip as she stalls. “Last night I told Penelope to keep you away from the Shepherd’s divorce party for as long as possible. And then I got Dan drunk, which wasn’t hard since he was convinced you were going to breakup with him.”
“Why would he —?”
“Because I told him you would always be in love with Chuck.”
Blair looks away and back down to the ticket. “What —?”
“It’s the truth isn’t it?” Blair doesn’t respond. “I was going to film it.”
Serena’s being vague but her intentions are clear enough. It makes Blair feel nauseated how all of their love for one another has gotten twisted into this. She used to think it was just Chuck but really it’s all of them.
“You certainly have a thing for sex with my boyfriends at the Campbell Hotel.”
“Is Dan still your boyfriend?” Blair doesn’t say anything, just runs a finger along the edge of the ticket and shrugs. No, he’s not. Saying it out loud isn’t something she’s ready for.
“Honestly? To hurt you. But I also thought I could prove to Dan the two of us should be together.”
“S, that is so —”
“Look, neither one of us can claim the high ground after last night.” She gestures to the plane ticket. “What’s that?”
“My ticket to Italy. Dan still wants me to go with him.” Maybe it’s a cruel thing to admit. Serena is in love with Dan and wants to be with him. Last night Blair chose Chuck. And yet Dan still wants to be with her.
“But he knows you were with Chuck last night.” Blair nods. “Then why would he think —?”
“Because a week ago I told him I wanted nothing more than to spend the summer with him. And because he’s Dan Humphrey he believed me.” Stupid Dan Humphrey with his softly spoken ultimatums and the audacity to apologize to her for ever giving one in the first place. For letting her know it’s okay to be confused and telling her, in not so many words, that he’d wait for her to figure it out.
“Do you want to go to Italy?” Blair doesn’t even hesitate to nod. “So change your mind. Choose Dan. What’s the problem?”
“Gossip Girl puts Chuck in Monte Carlo. He is invariably doing something stupid, and ill-advised, and likely to blow up in his face. But I want to be there for him.” Serena sighs loudly and Blair has half a mind to take offense, but she gets it. When did they all become these predictable stereotypes? Serena reaches out to grab Blair’s hand. The contact makes her uncomfortable at first. “It’s the same problem I’ve always had, S: I want everything. Always at once, and never when I’m supposed to.”
They sit there for another minute, holding hands but not looking at one another. Eventually Serena takes the ticket out of Blair’s hand and sets it on the vanity. Blair looks up, startled by the action.
“You can’t go to Italy,” Serena says.
“Why not?” She can hear the tightness in her own voice. And oh, god, is she about to cry?
“Because you might want everything, B, but Dan doesn’t. He only wants you. It’s not fair.” Blair clenches her jaw, searching Serena’s words for ill-intent but there isn’t any. “Do you really want to be his Chuck?”
The question stings, but only because it might be one of the most honest things Serena’s ever said to her. She knows what it’s like to have someone reassure you of their affection only to change their mind in what feels like an instant — the very thing happened to her the night before. And, if she’s being honest, even if she went to Italy with Dan, she wouldn’t be able to promise him she’s done with Chuck.
She picks the ticket back up and sets it inside her vanity. Shuts the drawer tight. “You’re right,” Blair says. “I don’t belong in Italy.”
Dan observed it once himself: the force between her and Chuck is undeniable. They’re going to keep being drawn to one another and, if she goes to Italy, Dan will perpetually be caught in the middle. Unless she refuses to let him be.
After the events at The Empire Dan expects a sleepless night, but he falls asleep as soon as he lays down. He wakes up 12 hours later feeling a little like he’s sleeping off a hangover, which isn’t entirely inaccurate, he supposes. The past two years are a little fuzzy and maybe he’s been drunk if he thought falling in love with Blair Waldorf was a good idea. It’s as reasonable an explanation as any.
Once he has placed an excessively large and expensive Seamless order (if ordering close to $100.00 worth of Chinese food isn’t a sign he’s nursing a serious heartbreak, he’s not sure what is) and then eating past the point of uncomfortable, he starts packing. It’s initially packing for the summer in Rome but afterward Dan finds he’s restless. He can’t stop moving but he doesn’t want to leave the loft. So he keeps packing.
He boxes up books he never intends to read again, clothes he hasn’t worn in years, and decor he doesn’t remember purchasing, then calls Goodwill to schedule a pickup. He packs away everything in his room not considered an essential and then lies on the bed for a while, staring at the ceiling and occasionally speaking a word out loud to hear the way the sound bounces off the walls of the practically empty room. He’s not sure what compelled him. He’s planning to be back in Brooklyn for his senior year at NYU. All he knows is when he’s done with this summer workshop he can’t go back to being the person he is now. He can’t keep drifting from falling in love with one Upper-East-Side socialite to the next only to be crushed each time. The definition of insanity, and all that. Maybe if he leaves gaps on his shelves and in his closet the Dan who comes back from Rome will have the actual physical space required to figure his shit out. The Dan who comes back can fill the space with things the person he wants to be needs.
Hours later he’s eating reheated egg rolls and drinking a beer, surveying his work, when his dad walks into the loft pulling two large suitcases behind him. He leaves them by the couch and Dan watches as his dad pulls out a beer of his own and then stands next to him in the kitchen, accepting the lukewarm egg roll Dan offers.
After a few beats of silence Rufus gestures to the stacks of boxes with his beer bottle. “What’s all this?”
“Blair chose Chuck Bass,” Dan says. There’s more he could say, of course, but at its most basic level that’s what happened. He gestures to his dad’s suitcases. “What’s all this?”
“Lily chose Bart Bass.”
Dan huffs out a laugh, shaking his head at both of them. “Not a good day to be a Humphrey.”
His dad reheats the containers of food and convinces Dan to sit down on the couch. Dan doesn’t think talking will solve anything or make him feel better, but he’s missed his dad and his presence is welcome.
“I guess thought I was immune to all of this,” Dan says at the end of his rambling. “But it got me.”
“What got you?”
“The whole Upper-East-Side thing. The games, the compromises, and obfuscation. All of it. I mean, I actually convinced myself that sending in tips to Gossip Girl could be considered a noble act.”
“Well,” his dad says in a tone that manages to both comfort and condescend at the same time, “in my experience it’s the people who say ‘never’ that end up being the most vulnerable.”
Dan frowns. “What do you mean?”
“You know. The people who say ‘I’d never cheat’ commit adultery. The people who say money doesn’t mean anything to them are the ones who sell out, and those —”
“—those who say they don’t care about Blair Waldorf fall in love with her.”
Dan focuses on picking at the label of his beer bottle.
“You’ll be okay, son.” It’s such a simple thing, but his dad’s words kind of make him want to cry. Instead he takes another swig of his beer.
“And what about you?”
“I’ve gotten over Lily before,” he says, dismissing the question. His dad’s tone is too casual, though. Dan knows he must be heartbroken.
He seems to consider the question fully and then nods his head in acknowledgment of the point Dan makes. “Well, there’s a first time for everything.”
After Dan got over the shock of finding out he was dating his dad’s ex-girlfriend’s daughter, the writer in him thought there was something incredibly romantic and literary about following in his father’s footsteps. Now, though —
Now the thought is merely depressing. What’s more, Dan is starting to think his big what-if love story doesn’t star Serena. He knows how that story goes — all the good, and the bad, and the in between. There’s no mystery to how and why his relationship with Serena ended. His story with Blair felt like it was just getting started. And if Blair is his great what if, then he’s doomed. Because as long as there is Blair there will be Chuck. He can’t handle the idea of Chuck Bass still being a part of his life when he’s his dad’s age.
The remainder of Dan’s week is spent helping his dad move back fully into the loft and running errands before his trip. If he can just keep busy, he thinks, then he won’t have time to dwell on the fact he actually asked Blair to consider coming to Rome with him.
The rational part of him — the part that recognizes Chuck and Blair rely on one another in a way that escapes him, and the part that never could quite believe Blair Waldorf was his girlfriend — that part doesn’t believe for a second she’ll show up to the airport. He’s ashamed to admit there’s another piece of him, small as it may be, that has taken the shape of a hope balloon and refuses to deflate. Dan is fairly certain it’s the same part to blame for kissing Blair the first time, or writing about her the first time, or thinking that telling her he loved her was ever a good idea.
He holds onto that piece of hope long after he’s boarded the flight and sits in first class waiting, staring at the door, trying to will her to walk down the aisle and take the empty seat beside him.
She offers him a small mercy and texts him she won’t be coming.
4:18 PM - Blair to Dan
Thank you for the invitation but I won’t be able to join you this summer. I wish you the best.
It reads like a form rejection letter and Dan has no idea how to respond. So he doesn’t.
His writing that summer is less than spectacular. Honestly, it’s not what he expected or counted on. Isn’t this the type of experience that defines a writer? Don’t artists exist solely for the opportunity to channel their heartbreak into great works?
The other artists in his cohort are inspiring, simultaneously shaming and challenging him with their talent. He asks a small group for an honest critique of Inside. It was an unpolished piece of fiction published without his consent and now that reality has disproved the entire thesis of the book (turns out Charlie Trout wasn’t destined to end up alone) he can examine it as something separate from himself.
He checks Gossip Girl a time or two, mostly to discern exactly how his international escape is being sold. Dan finds, except for his departure from JFK, nothing has been sent in about his whereabouts or his life. Apparently the world at large has decided the UES is finished with Dan Humphrey and as such they are no longer interested in his exploits and comings and goings. It’s not the worst feeling.
And he knows what are essentially paparazzi photos aren’t an accurate reflection of reality but he can’t stop looking at photos of Blair and searching for signs she’s okay. Is she happy? Content? The only pictures posted are of Chuck and Blair with hard determined stares fixed on their faces as they shuffle in and out of town cars and walk down the streets of Manhattan. Sometimes Blair has a hand tucked into the crook of Chuck’s arm, sometimes not. Dan doesn’t find the answer to his questions in the photos so he’s decided to trust finally being with the person she wanted is enough to make her happy.
The writing workshop ends and with it his time in Rome. He takes a day trip to Tivoli and while walking along the wooded paths of the park he receives a travel alert on his phone regarding a change to his flight to New York. Walking along the paths in Villa Gregoriana Dan has a panic attack. He can’t catch his breath and he gets dizzy, steadying himself by a tree before he sinks to the ground.
The thought of seeing everyone — dealing with the condescending, or the pitying stares of those who, up to this last year, he considered his best-friends. The thought that he’s going to have to pretend he’s okay seeing Blair with Chuck when he’s not — oh god, he’s not okay — isn’t something he can handle. What’s more, going back to being the person he was when he left — the kind of person who gave his girlfriend ultimatums, got drunk and almost cheated with his ex, and lost sight of what matters to him — he’s suffocating and it can’t happen. He rests his elbows on his knees, cradling his head in his hands, telling himself to calm down, to take deep breaths. That he’s okay. Once he’s properly scared a family visiting from Poland and dismissed the concern of a couple of local residents, he stands up and brushes the dirt off. He’s not going back.
The first call he makes is to his dad and, to his credit, Rufus doesn’t seem surprised. Next he calls Nate. Despite the almost constant tumult of Nate’s family they’re the most well-connected group of people Dan knows and if anyone has a connection in Italy, it’s him. After he hangs up with Nate Dan stares at his phone. He asked Nate to tell Serena he’s not coming back (that connection is still too fraught to make on his own) but there’s one other person he’d like to talk to about it.
Dan spends all night with the other authors pretending to engage in the jovial environment as they drink wine, celebrating their final nights in Rome, but really he’s thinking of Blair. Should he call her? Send her an email? Does he owe her that? It’s as he’s contemplating these things that he gets an alert from Gossip Girl.
Spotted, it reads, resident power couple Blair Waldorf and Chuck Bass meeting with real estate mogul Joshua Barnes for cocktails. Daddy Bass won’t be pleased. Do I detect another coup d’ếtat?
Dan transfers to Florence University of the Arts and enrolls in their creative writing program. It will require him to be in Italy for at least two years as not all of his credits will transfer from NYU, but he doesn’t particularly care.
He unsubscribes from Gossip Girl the day he leaves Rome. He never calls Blair.
Blair doesn’t know how she managed to forget but being a powerhouse is exhausting. Those final weeks and months of her senior year are a bit of a blur but her proudest accomplishment is graduating from Columbia. While it comes without the pristine academic record she originally demanded of herself, in the end she did it. It doesn’t matter how she go to Columbia in the first place — she’s the one who put in the work.
It’s far too loud to hear anyone specifically calling her name as she crosses the stage of Radio City Music Hall to accept her diploma, but she’d like to think Serena, Nate (his graduation ceremony isn’t for another four days), and Chuck are cheering her on. She can’t bother to think of the people (her mom, dad, and...others who will remain unnamed) who didn’t make it a priority to be here.
She and Chuck become the power couple of her fantasies. He manages to eke a way back into Bass Industries, biding his time until he can do more, and she spends her days at Waldorf Designs. He doesn’t want to be Mr. Blair Waldorf but she has no real desire to be Mrs. Chuck Bass. She wonders if this life they’ve carved out for themselves is the best possible ending to their story — each one of them working to out-strive, out-achieve, and out-accomplish the other person. But always coming back to one another.
Her dreams have, admittedly, been widely inconsistent over the past years. One year she wanted nothing more than to be a princess and the next to be a titan of industry. There was always a consistent through line, though. Above all she wants to be in charge and have others revere her. Which is what makes it so embarrassing to admit to herself she doesn’t deserve the job at Waldorf Designs. Her mother simply hands her something she at one time clawed for and she’s not ready. But now the job, the company, and all the responsibility is hers and she’s determined to succeed.
Except nothing in her narrative is going the way it’s supposed to go. The story she was always told is if you work hard, harder than anyone else, you’ll be successful. Blair is doing that. She’s following those steps. She’s working harder than anyone she knows and still she isn’t okay. Neither is Waldorf Designs, and she doesn’t know what to do about that.
She distracts herself from the company’s financial woes by developing a fashion line she has to believe will change everything. As she throws herself into that the rest of the business becomes harder to manage. Payroll isn’t processed correctly one month and her shop assistants threaten to quit after not getting paid. She has to cancel a heavily advertised trunk show for one of Eleanor’s designer friends at the last minute. Blair didn’t get word out early enough so a line of furious debutantes leave her store in a steady stream all day.
She tries to talk to Chuck about it but he doesn’t listen. Well, he kind of does. Offering her, “you’ll be fine,” conciliatory statements and nothing more. Blair understands why Chuck’s attention is elsewhere. He’s pre-occupied by the havoc his father is wreaking on his life and the business. So most days when he asks her about work she smiles and says it’s going great, and then asks Dorota to bring her another glass of wine.
But then he finds her late one night, typing away at her computer even as she’s crying about some new disaster related to the fashion line.
Something must click for him because he actually asks her, “How bad is it?”
“It’s bad, Chuck.”
He runs a hand over her shoulder and places a kiss there. “I’ll fix it,” he says. It’s everything Blair thought she wanted — him offering to rescue her. Instead she feels like a failure.
The following week they’re getting dressed up for an event Blair doesn’t entirely know the original purpose of. What matters is she knows what she and Chuck will be using it for. Chuck drapes a strand of pearls around her neck — their eyes meeting in her vanity mirror as he does.
“You know what to do,” he says.
And she does. What she needs to do is cozy up to a potential investor of Waldorf Designs. Once faced with his predictable refusal, Blair is to casually let it slip that she’s aware he was caught in a compromising situation with the daughter of the chairman of the board of his real estate firm. And wouldn’t it be the absolute worst if that information made it back to the board?
She leaves the party with the promise of a $1.2 million investment with only a 10% stake in the business and a twisted, dark feeling in her gut. This isn’t what she thought it would be like. This isn’t the kind of woman she thought she’d be. While Chuck sleeps soundly beside her Blair slips out of bed and goes downstairs to make herself a cup of tea.
She sits on the chaise, and chooses not to examine the impulse as she reaches for her phone: Blair wants to talk to Dan.
She’s had his number in Italy for more than a year — (For the record, it’s not like she sought it out. She and Nate were at the same event and he left her to acquire another drink. She happened to see the WhatsApp message from Dan and then happened to take a picture of Dan’s number and saved it into her phone.) — but this is the first time she’s done more than hover over his name as she scrolled through her contacts.
Dan answers long after she resigned herself to his voicemail clicking on, his voice low and gravelly, and — “This is an incredibly rude way to answer the phone, Humphrey.”
“It’s incredibly rude to call someone at 4:30 in the morning.”
“I thought you tortured artist types didn’t go to bed until after 4:30.”
“What would make you think I’m tortured by anything?”
It’s not fair. She’s woken him up in the dead of night and she still can’t catch him off guard. She lets the silence stretch out when she hears Dan sigh.
“What’s going on Blair?”
What is going on? That is actually an excellent question. “I hear you’re finally graduating this year and wanted to wish you congratulations.”
“Have you written any good books lately?”
She takes a deep breath. “My company’s in trouble. My mom’s company. I — well, I’m in charge now — and we’re in trouble. Have been for a while, and I’m too ashamed to admit it to my mom, and I know if I tell her she’ll take it away.”
“What are you going to do?”
“Chuck has a —”
“And I’m done.”
“What?” She doesn’t know why she mentioned Chuck’s name except for Dan wanted to know how she was going to fix it. This is what they decided to do. Because she and Chuck are a team.
“You’re seriously considering taking advice from Chuck Bass on how to save your company?”
“This is his world, Dan. He knows what he’s talking about.”
“Yes.” Yes, she repeats to herself. This is something she is certain of.
“Have you picked up a Forbes magazine recently, Blair? Is anyone, besides Chuck himself, praising his business acumen?”
It’s such an unwelcome thought she won’t consider it. “You can’t argue with —”
“Do you think Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk — you think these guys did the things Chuck and his father do? High stakes poker games in Monte Carlo, bribing board members, arson?”
As soon as Chuck told her of his plan to save Waldorf Designs, it felt right. No, Blair corrects. It felt familiar. The problem is (the problem always has been) that Dan doesn’t understand. He doesn’t get that this is how the Upper-East-Side works. There’s a different set of rules required. “Well what am I supposed to do?”
“I don’t know, Blair.” For the first time he sounds tired. “But I don’t have to know because I’m not the one running a company at the age of 23. Read a fucking book and figure it out.”
It’s one of the meanest things he’s ever said to her. His honesty just makes her miss him. “Are you ever coming back?”
“It was nice talking to you, Blair.” Before she can say anything else or even return the sentiment, he hangs up.
She goes to bed furious and wakes up even more irritated. She tried to explain to Dan all those months ago what happened and he never responded to her emails. Where does he get off acting like the injured party? Like her calling him is some great inconvenience. Clearly calling him was a mistake. A mistake she is never to repeat.
On the way to her hair appointment, Blair (for absolutely no particular reason) finds herself stopping at a newsstand and picks up the most recent issues of Forbes, Bloomberg Businessweek, and Fortune. As she’s washed, highlighted, plucked and styled, she pours through every word of each magazine. When she discovers not even the latest scandal at Bass Industries has any words of dedicated ink she turns her attention to an internet search.
The result? No one cares about Bass Industries. Maybe they did at one time, but no one is remotely interested. In fact the business world at large seems to just be waiting for the entire company to fall so they can hack up the pieces for themselves. Which makes the fact that it’s been the ever present third party in her relationship with Chuck sting even more. What have they been working so hard for?
That night Blair makes some calls — first to the investor to inform him her hard drive was unexpectedly corrupted, all evidence destroyed, and she won’t need his investment. He’s wary, untrusting, and she can’t blame him.
Then she calls Epperly.
The night after Blair calls, Dan dreams of her.
It’s something that happened with startling frequency the summer he left New York, but rarely since. The contents of the dream are hazy and nonsensical in the way dreams always are. At first he and Blair are sitting at a table in the café Vanessa worked at back in high school, but then Blair takes his hand and pulls him outside, and he knows, even though it still looks like Brooklyn, that they’re in Florence now. He tries to ask Blair a question, but she shushes him as they go down alleyways, turn corners, duck behind pillars. The further they walk the more New York morphs into Florence, the Florence he knows, until they’re sneaking into a late night bakery Dan loves and purchasing a bag of croissants.
“Blair.” She presses a finger to his lips.
“Hush, Humphrey,” she says, and places a piece of the croissant on his tongue.
He wakes up.
Dan knows the dream doesn’t mean anything. Well, fine. It means she’s in his head again (or she never really left and he’s just now admitting it). As he walks from his apartment to his creative writing intensive, he finds his gaze darting from person to person, anticipating seeing Blair on any of the streets that have become so familiar to him. It feels like that day on the plane — waiting and hoping she’ll surprise him and be there. When she doesn’t show by the end of the week, he’s almost ashamed. It’s like he’s relapsed. And maybe it’s wildly stupid and impulsive but she’s invaded his life in Florence now and he decides he can’t be there anymore.
FUA doesn’t really have a formal graduation ceremony, but he uses some of the royalties from his book to fly Jenny and Rufus out for the week anyway. He tells both of them about his new life plan: he’ll move back to Rome, teach English at a lower secondary school in the day, and spend time writing at night.
His family looks at one another, seemingly deciding who is going to react first. His dad clears his throat. “You’re never coming back, are you son?”
“I make sense here. I like it.”
“You didn’t answer my question.”
There’s an exhibit for some obscure artist at a local gallery Rufus decides he wants to go to (and that Dan’s already gone to thrice), so Dan shows his sister around the city he’s fallen in love with. She looks less harried and beat down by the UES, younger than he remembers her looking.
“What have you been writing?”
He reaches for a piece of bread from their shared plate. “Nothing good.”
“You’re always so hard on yourself.”
“Not this time, Jen.”
“The same thing happened to me.” He looks up at her, puzzled. “I know it’s not the same, but it was like all my creativity got sucked into a vortex. Took me a while to get it back.”
“But you got it back?”
She considers the question as she nibbles on a piece of cheese. “I think so. Maybe. I’m working on it.”
“So are you still writing Blair?” He gives her a look because the truth is he’s not writing much of anything these days. He’s also afraid once he starts it’ll be Blair’s story that comes out and he doesn’t think he’s ready for that. Even after all this time. “Well, are you?”
He shakes his head. “Believe it or not, I am doing my level best to not fixate all my time and attention on a relationship that ended two years ago.”
She shrugs. “It makes sense.”
His sister agreeing with him never leads to anywhere good. He narrows his eyes as he takes a sip of wine. “What makes sense?”
“Why you might still be hung up on her. The two of you didn’t get any closure.”
“Closure is a myth, I’m pretty sure.” As he says that the first person he thinks of is Serena. Things ended just as if not more terribly between the two of them as they did with Blair. Does Serena experience a wave of nausea that comes on unexpectedly when she thinks about how they left things? Or feel guilt she’s not quite sure how to atone for? Dan doesn’t want that for her. There were in love at one time and kind of family for a short stretch.
Jenny interrupts his thoughts by flicking water at him.
“Well then write about me,” she says. “I’m fascinating.”
He rolls his eyes at her, and then again when she orders a cappuccino from the waiter long after 12pm.
As far as book ideas go, however, it’s not the worst one he’s ever heard.
Epperly was predictably reluctant to help Blair, but after she debased herself and begged, and begged, and then Blair reminded her that, oh yeah, Epperly once colluded with Chuck Bass in the most unprofessional of ways, she conceded. Help comes in the form of Epperly setting up a meeting between Blair and a boutique owner on the Upper-West-Side.
The exterior of Pipe and Row is vaguely familiar in the way all small boutiques seem to be aesthetically the same. Blair can’t fathom why the owner of this boutique is the person Epperly thought she should meet with, but after being with Emily Rose for less than five minutes Blair understands.
“The problem is,” Emily says, “you have no clue who the Waldorf woman is.” Emily flips through pictures of the designs Blair brought. “Who is your creative director?”
Blair maintains eye contact. This is her company. She has nothing to be ashamed of. “We’re kind of doing creative direction by committee right now.”
“That doesn’t work. A single person needs to know who this woman is, where she’s going, what matters to her, what excites and challenges and motivates her. Then, when you know who that woman is, you build your collection around her.” Emily takes a sip of her coffee. “And, frankly, this is something 19-year-olds at Parsons learn their first semester.”
Blair wants to bite back, badly, The thing is, she knows all of this. It’s just with more and more to manage in the business she’s lost the guiding voice that even got her the job in the first place. Instead of defending herself she bites her tongue to keep the words in. She takes a sip of coffee and a deep a breath.
“I took an unconventional path. The question is what I do now.”
“What I just laid out is your large-scale problem, but your short-scale problem is you have no understanding of the financial demands of your company, do you?” Blair shakes her head. “The first thing you do is call your accountant, setup a daily meeting with him and you get to know the profit and losses better than he does.”
“Okay. I can do that.”
“And then you tell him you want to cut your store in half.”
It takes everything in Blair to remain seated. “Excuse me?”
“I have great respect for your mother and what she’s built, but this is too much space, and the real estate too valuable. You split the space, rent it out, and you have an extra $50,000 coming in per year. Easily. You take half and use it on your website redesign and online presence.”
“It would be humiliating.”
“If you want to go the way of Betsey Johnson, by all —”
“Look, Emily, I appreciate —”
“I killed two of my stores before I made this one work, Blair.” That confession stops Blair from continuing both her internal and external diatribe. Emily takes a breath, nodding at Blair. “You don’t have to listen to me, I don’t particularly care if you do, but I know what I’m talking about.”
At the end of their meeting Blair asks to schedule another one. She feels good, a little more in control, but still slightly sick.
First she went to Chuck and asked what she should do to fix the problem, and then she asked Dan, and now it’s Emily taking control and directing her. It’s not that she doesn’t appreciate the advice, but she wants to know what to do and how to fix these things. She wants her instincts to be the what guides her. She needs to know how to fix this on her own.
Later that night she’s having dinner with Nate. It’s something they do from time to time and when she takes their entire history into account, it objectively doesn’t make sense. He cheated on her. She cheated on him. And yet here they are at Café Boulud entirely comfortable with one another. They’re friends. The type of friends who help each other. And share their connections.
“What’s with the look?” Nate asks.
“You’re wearing your ‘I need something’ look. Why?”
She swishes her cocktail around and makes her face completely impassive. Unreadable. “Possibly because I need something.” She takes a sip of her drink.
“Do you happen to know anyone from NYU’s MBA program?”
He laughs, taking a sip of his own drink. “Between you and Dan.”
“What?” He simply shrugs. “Please explain yourself.”
She hopes she struck the proper balance between insistence and apathy because the truth is that Gossip Girl has long ceased reporting on the Humphreys. She knows he’s stayed close with Nate. And, a few months ago, Serena mentioned Dan sent her a letter she was still too scared to open. But Blair goes out of her way to not bring him up, so this mention of him is something she latches onto.
“Look, when he moved to Italy he asked for my help, too. Wanted to know if I knew anyone who could get him in at the school he transferred to.”
“Well,” Blair says imperiously, “as much as I hesitate to do anything Dan Humphrey would consider a good idea, I find myself needing the same favor.”
Nate rolls his eyes and Blair knows she didn’t fool him. The time for pretending Dan meant nothing to her is long past. “NYU, huh? You realize you could get into Columbia just as easily, right? I’m sure Chuck could —”
“Look,” she says, cutting him off. “I want to do this on my own terms. I just need a name to send my application to. That’s it.”
Because she got into NYU on her own when she was an undergrad, but Chuck fixed it for her so she could go to Columbia. That year at NYU still rankles her. The way she treated it like it was such a waste and how when she looks back the entire year feels more or less like a failure.
It won’t correct everything gone awry in her life, but this is an opportunity for a do-over and Blair wants it.
All it takes is being back in Rome for a few short hours for Dan to become convinced he made the right decision. Rome feels like home in a way Florence never did. Everything about the city inspires him to write: his apartment, the architecture, the people, the fact that he’s a college graduate and the future is rife with possibility.
He’s happy (or mostly), settled (or trying to be), and feels like he’s breathing easy for the first time in years. Maybe that’s why it just fits when he meets Karen.
His job at the school doesn’t start for another month so he spends his days writing and visiting all the parts he missed last time he was in Rome, when he vacillated between being deeply depressed and entranced by the country. It feels good to reclaim the city and be inspired by it instead.
It’s on one such day, exploring a little further out of the city, that he sets himself up at a café table. He overhears someone with an Italian accent almost as terrible as his ordering coffee and he can’t help but snort. The woman turns around and glares at him, well aware he was laughing at her. Of course that’s how they meet. He offers to buy her coffee as an apology.
Karen’s also from the US. She works for a study away department at a university and is visiting a number of foreign schools to assess their programs for her students. She’ll also be leaving Rome in two short weeks. Coffee turns into dinner, turns into Dan walking her back to her hotel and them making out before she goes up to her room.
Karen is in meetings with reps from the universities for several hours each day which gives Dan plenty of time to write. Once they’re both done for the day they explore the city, enjoy long dinners late into the night and then, when the making out no longer satisfies either of them, she stays the night at his apartment. She’s funny in a way he isn’t used to — his friends from high school and college are of the biting commentary bent — but Karen enjoys bits and absurd statements that make him roll his eyes and laugh out loud. They know few things about one another because one person will ask a question, the other will respond with a half-serious comment, and then they banter back and forth, forgetting the original question in favor of getting the other person to laugh.
They’re back at the café they met, Karen answering work emails while he plugs away at a chapter of what might, thank the lord, be the makings of an actual book, when he finds himself asking her a question.
“Have you ever been in love?”
She stops typing and tilts her head considering his question. “I don’t think so.”
“No. I mean, there was a time I thought my college boyfriend and I might get married, but looking back I don’t really think it was love.” She shrugs. “I will one day, though. I’m not worried about it. I’m still so young.”
He looks at her with wide eyes. She makes it sound so simple. “What? Not properly romantic enough for your writer sensibilities?”
“No, it’s not that,” he says. He stops talking to run a hand through his hair and huffs out a deep breath. Through it all she looks faintly amused by him. “How old are you?”
“25.” She’s a year older than him. I’m still so young, she said. It might be melodramatic but Dan hasn’t thought of himself as ‘so young’ in a very long time. Maybe it was falling in love with someone with occasional substance abuse issues, or having sex with a teacher, or dating a movie star, or being fooled into believing he was a teenage father — holy shit, maybe he needs some therapy. All of it. Everything from his high school experience has made him feel so very adult. “How old are you?”
“Well, I hope you’re able to learn from my wisdom,” she says, then goes back to typing her work email. And that’s that.
He kisses her goodbye two nights before she is set to leave Rome. It makes the most sense as Karen’s next day is full with one final round of meetings with universities, and then she’ll need to pack before flying out early the next morning. She slips him her number as they say goodbye. “In case you’re ever in Malibu.”
“Why would I ever go to Malibu?”
She looks at him like he might be insane. “Uh, because it’s paradise, Daniel.” She gives him a quick peck, waves as she steps onto the elevator, and he leaves. On his walk back to his apartment Dan marvels that this is by far the healthiest relationship he’s ever had. Maybe the secret to healthy relationships is keeping them short enough he can’t possibly ruin them.
It also gives him hope maybe he’ll find it again and when he does it won’t have to be quite as tumultuous. He doesn’t know if he could emotionally survive another five years of dating the way he did in high school and college.
Blair always thought if her relationship with Chuck came to a final and bitter end it would be because they did something so completely unforgivable or destructive the other person would have to walk away. So terrible that confessions of love, and the top of the Empire State Building, and paying off dowries would do nothing to salvage them. Something like she slept with his dad. Or, he got someone else pregnant. Basically every imagined end she’s thought of is twisted up in sex and power.
In the end it’s something significant but relatively mundane: Chuck misses her graduation from NYU.
Intellectually Blair knows missing a graduation isn’t the biggest of deals. Her mom and dad missed her undergraduate one, after all. It was a one-year MBA program, not a Pulitzer. Except Blair managed to get Waldorf Designs closer and closer to the black while maintaining a 3.8 GPA, and she’s proud of herself, and she wanted Chuck to be there. It’s the kind of thing a soul mate should want to be part of.
It was a relatively last minute decision. The night before her graduation Chuck explained everything. There’s an opportunity to merge Bass Industries with a smaller startup, Dorsey Tech. The CEO is a technological genius and if Chuck acquires his proprietary algorithms, it would move Bass Industries forward in a way other companies would be fighting to catch up with. It’d also secure his future at Bass Industries forever as there would be no way the board would ever let him be ousted. Blair suggested he postpone the meeting, just two days, but he kissed her, offered nothing more than a “I can’t,” and left for his flight.
Blair doesn’t understand how this always happens — how can the world operate in such a way that the moment Blair wants Chuck to be with her is always the precise moment he can’t be? They’ve both had those moments where they’re willing to give up everything for the other person, but they rarely occur at the same time.
So instead she celebrates with Serena and Nate (the two of them trying the relationship thing again), Emily and Emily’s wife, and her father who came into the city for the event. Her mother told her months prior she wouldn’t be able to attend and that means everything actually — that her mother had her assistant look up the date and circled it on the calendar. That she told Blair well in advance and has made plans to celebrate as soon as she’s back in the city. The small group goes out to dinner ordering more food than it is physically possible to eat, and then Serena, Nate, and Blair go out for drinks.
There’s a part of her, however remote it might be, that doesn’t want to forever lose her connection to Dan. So when the three of them are still out past three in the morning and Nate receives a text from Dan (Nate is, apparently, planning a trip to visit him in Rome — there’s a twinge of jealousy Blair feels at this revelation) Blair doesn’t hesitate to say, “tell him I said hello.” Nate and Serena both go eerily still for a second and then the bartender announces last call and Blair makes her way over to put in one last order of drinks.
When she stumbles back to the table with a beer for Nate and house cocktails for both herself and Serena, she sees Nate dart a glance first to Serena and then back to Blair.
“Dan says congratulations,” he says.
The tenuous thread that exists between them now — she sent a message to Dan, he sent one back — makes Blair’s heart beat a little faster, but she wills herself to maintain a blank expression. She sips at her drink. “He might be from Brooklyn but don’t look so surprised. We’re civilized people.”
She pours herself into bed that night, chugging water and taking ibuprofen before laying down. When she wakes up, Chuck is home. She’s not entirely sure how she knows — there’s something in the way the air in their apartment moves when he’s there versus when he’s not — it’s intangible but she’s almost never wrong.
She ties her robe around her waist as she comes down the stairs and Chuck is sitting at the table, impassively drinking coffee as he reads the paper.
“When did you get back?”
“A few hours ago.” His eyes drift to her normal seat at the table and she sees it — a red wrapped gift with a large gold bow. She knew the gift would be there. The only question is how lavish this apology will be.
She sits down, sets the gift aside, and serves herself some strawberries. Chuck does that thing where he watches her but is also pretending not to, his eyes drifting between whatever he’s reading and her. Once Dorota takes the rest of Blair’s breakfast order and shuts the dining room door, Chuck sets his paper aside with a long-suffering sigh.
“I’m sorry,” he says.
She nods. He’s always sorry. Being sorry has never been the problem.
“How’d the meeting go?”
“We got there and discovered Alan Dorsey’s flight from San Francisco got cancelled. He wasn’t able to make it.”
“Interesting,” she says, pouring herself a cup of coffee and taking a long, slow sip. “So you went for nothing, then.”
“I had to try, Blair.”
“Of course you did.” She knows Chuck loves her, but he also loves Bass Industries, and she’s starting to think between the two of them she’ll lose every time. The silence lasts long enough to get uncomfortable and it sends a little thrill up Blair’s spine as she eats her fruit and sips her coffee.
“Are you going to open your gift?”
The honest answer is she couldn’t care less, but she sets her cup of coffee aside and pulls the ribbon from the box. “Plane tickets,” she says. So the answer to her earlier question is fairly lavish. Despite Chuck’s cavalier attitude he seems to understand he really messed up this time.
“Three weeks, just the two of us. First Morrocco and then Spain. I already rented a house in —”
She sets the tickets aside. “It sounds wonderful but I have other obligations.”
He looks incredulous, and she wonders if he thinks she’s playing some sort of game. “Excuse me?”
“You have us leaving next week.”
“Dinner and drinks are nice, but this will be a real celebration.”
“I can’t leave, Chuck. I’m interviewing design interns next week.”
“You’re Blair Waldorf, if you want to go to Morocco then go to Morocco.”
“I don’t want to go to Morocco.”
“Well then what do you want? I’m trying to make this up to you.”
“It’s not that hard to understand, Chuck. I want you to stop having to make things up to me!” Dorota must have been listening at the door because she perfectly times bringing in Blair’s breakfast with the uncomfortable silence that stretches out between them.
When Blair finally looks at Chuck he stares back like he doesn’t recognize her.
“Why haven’t you ever asked for my help?”
“I ask for your —”
“You ask me to help you scheme, plan takedowns, crush our mutual enemies beneath our feet. But you’ve never once asked me for help with Bass Industries. Why is that?”
He smiles at her, sweetly, and she wants to throw her coffee cup at the wall. She and Chuck are the same in this way: if their expression is sweet, the emotion motivating it is likely twisted and dark.
“There’s not much overlap between the world of real estate and the world of fashion,” Chuck says.
“Business is business. I just spent a year of my life getting my MBA while running a company and —”
“Look, Waldorf Designs is an admirable and worthwhile venture. But Bass Industries is worth close to 1.8 billion —”
“And Prada is worth $5.5, Dior $4.9, Ralph Lauren over $4, surprising given their commitment to the whole Polo shirt thing, but you get my point.”
“How long do you think it will take to get Waldorf Designs anywhere close to that level? Our future lies with Bass Industries.”
She tilts her head, considering Chuck in his perfectly tailored suit at 9:00 AM. “When was it exactly, Chuck, that you cast me in the role of your vapid trophy wife?”
“I have never —”
“You indulge me.”
“No, I’m your partner. You’re not mine. I needed a partner with me last night.”
“I won’t see us become our parents, Chuck.” That stops him from saying anything else and he slides his chair closer to her, reaching for her hand.
She holds up the plane tickets. Exhibit A. “So tell me what happens when we go to Morocco and you get a call that Alan Dorsey is flying into New York? Will you drop everything and go? Maybe leave me by myself in our big rental house and promise to make it up to me. Again?” She looks around the room. “We live in the apartment that saw my parents’ marriage dissolve. We’re running the companies our parents built. I’ll tell you how this story ends. We’re both going to keep working 70-hours a week because our work actually means something to us but we will never truly sacrifice anything for one another. Ever. Then one of us will have an affair. Maybe both of us. I get pregnant and then, for the third time in my life, I have to wonder about the paternity of my child. If it’s yours we decide to stay together, make it work. But we’re not forgiving people, Chuck. We will never forgive each other. If we have a daughter, our relationship will be as fraught as mine is with my mother. And if we have a son, your relationship with him will be as bitter and exacting as yours is with your father —”
He slams his fist on the table, silverware and china clattering. It’s all so predictable. Blair doesn’t even flinch. “You don’t know that,” he says.
“So you see us being warm and fuzzy parents? The —” she searches her mind for the name of a good parent and can only come up with one, “Rufus Humphrey of the Upper-East-Side?”
“We could be.”
“Chuck, you couldn’t even make it to my graduation.” She wipes her mouth with her napkin, stands up, and pushes her chair in. Doesn’t kiss him on the forehead or squeeze his hand in reassurance. Just sets her plate aside and walks upstairs.
“You know,” he says. “Every time you and Serena stopped speaking and she would leave for parts unknown — every time she pulled one of her stunts you would swear you hated her. But you never stopped speaking about her. Or to her.”
She tenses her shoulders, certain where this conversation is leading. “So?”
“So what does it mean that that’s the first time you’ve even come close to mentioning Dan Humphrey’s name in the past four years?”
Blair is reminded of a time a few years prior when Serena said something similar to her about Dan — whenever you have feelings for someone that you can't deal with, you avoid them. At the time she insisted Serena was wrong. And now she’s just so tired of pretending.
“I don’t know,” she says. “You’re Chuck Bass. It can mean whatever you want it to mean.”
After a year at Central Saint Martin Jenny surprises the entire family when she transfers to a much smaller fashion design program on the west coast.
“London was basically New York with better accents,” she explained. “I need something different.”
Portland is by definition a big city but when Dan comes out for Jenny’s graduation he marvels at how vastly different it feels from New York. It’s so green and there’s so much space, and it makes New York’s coffee snob culture look laid back and chill. It’s the first time Dan’s been back in the states since he left and it takes some adjusting to not hear Italian everywhere he goes.
The run up to Jenny’s commencement is predictable: family dinners their parents try to remain civil throughout, helping pack up her apartment for her move back to New York, and meeting her awkward but affectionate visual design boyfriend. After the big event Dan stays for an additional week. It’s both a way to take a break from his school year ending and to spend time with his sister. They used to tell one another everything, and while he thinks it’s okay they no longer do he wants their relationship to be more than it is.
There’s also something he wants to show her.
They’re eating dinner at one of the city’s food cart pods, sharing a bit of everything from each cart, when he hands her an envelope containing the final draft of Is Aubrey Jessup Okay?
She frowns as she opens it. “What? Is this a contract Blair and Chuck want me to sign before I come back to New York or something?”
Maybe it’s a testament to how much he’s grown that Dan just laughs at the mention of the couple.
“No. It’s nothing like that.”
She pulls out the pages and looks from the title page to Dan and back again. “You wrote another book?” Jenny sounds stunned by this revelation and he gets it — the last time they talked about his writing he revealed how blocked he was.
He nods. “Believe it or not, I took your advice.” She squints, not seeming to remember. “It’s about you, Jen. Well, it’s kind of about you. It sort of started that way. And then Aubrey became her own person, but yeah.” She doesn’t seem to know what to say so he rushes to fill the silence. “Look, I told Alessandra I’ve been working on something but she hasn’t seen it yet. I want — you should read it first. And if you don’t want me to publish it, I won’t.”
“You wrote about me?” He nods and she just shakes her head. Dan waits for her to process and share with him whatever it is she’s thinking. “How long have you been working on this?”
“About a year. A little more than.”
“And you’d scrap the whole thing?”
“You’re my sister.” He knows there was a time that wouldn’t have mattered — he would have burned every relationship he had to the ground if it meant getting something published, but the self-righteous platitudes of his father must have finally sunk in because that’s not who he wants to be. He refuses to believe what Vanessa said all those years ago — he won’t sell his soul just to sell his art.
“So should I —” she holds the pages up.
“Yeah. I was thinking of driving out to the coast tomorrow. You know, try to distract myself from the fact you might hate it.”
“I’m not going to hate it.” After dinner Dan walks her back to her apartment and they hug before she goes inside. “Call me when you get back?”
Dan can see why so many novels about self-discovery and women having their post-divorce mid-life crises take place on beaches like the ones in Oregon. Something about the cliffs and the way it never gets quite warm enough to sunbathe makes everything feel so much larger. He gets fish and chips from a stand that is, inexplicably, on a boat and then spends most of the day walking as far as he can. When he gets tired, he sits and stares at the fading light on the water. His mind is wonderfully quiet for once.
It’s close to midnight when he finally gets back. He’s already texted Jenny to tell her he’ll call the next morning, but she’s waiting for him in the lobby of his hotel. She hands him back the pages.
Every thought he pushed aside comes roaring back. What if she hates it? What if she says no? What if he never gets inspired again? Is he doomed to have his only book be something he didn’t actually want published in the first place? He rubs a hand over his face and huffs out a heavy sigh. For some reason Blair comes to mind. She’s the cruelest and most honest critic he knows — what will she think of it?
“A girl wakes up three-hundred miles from home with no memory of who she is or how she got there? The metaphor is a little heavy handed,” Jenny says. “Don’t you think?”
“Jenny, look —”
“I loved it, Dan.”
She nods and then hugs him tight. “Thank you.”
He sends it to Alessandra the next morning. Less than an hour after he sends the email she calls him. “Daniel Humphrey I could wring your neck.”
“Why?” He pulls the phone away from his ear and looks at the caller ID. Maybe it’s not Alessandra? Why would she be mad about him sending her a book?
“Where did this come from?”
Oh. “I told you I’d been working on something.” He clears his throat. “So, it works?”
“Part coming of age novel, part mystery, part road trip comedy? It works. I’m not going to be able to convince my team to slot it into the publication schedule this cycle but how does next spring sound?”
She could have said six years from now and it would have sounded great to Dan. “Perfect.”
Dan realizes that, unfortunately, perfect is a bit of a stretch. Perfect would allow him to publish this book and keep the life he’s so carefully constructed intact. Maybe when you’ve published more than one best seller you can tell your editor how things are going to be, but he’s not there. Alessandra tells him they’re aiming for an April publication date and she desperately wants him in New York starting in March for promo. Well, she says ‘wants’ but he recognizes it’s not a request.
He talks to his school in Rome and amends his contract so he’ll teach for fall semester only, and then Dan will be done.
“You should move to Portland,” Jenny suggests one night over Skype. “I think you’d like it.”
“You want me to move to Portland just after you moved back to New York? Should I be offended?”
“Do you really want to come back?” Dan considers it seriously, does he?, and then shakes his head. “You’ll love it big brother. Be prepared to get really invested in micro brews.”
Once they hang up Dan can’t stop thinking about what Jenny asked him. Does he want to go back to New York? The city is actually quite small — not in terms of the number of people who live there but in terms of space. It’s surprising how often you run into someone you know in that mass of humanity. There’s a large part of him that isn’t concerned by that. He’s still friends with Nate. He’s not sure if he and Serena will ever be close again but they’re at least in a place where he wouldn’t feel weird seeing her. His story will always be connected to hers, and he’s more okay with that than he thought he’d be.
It’s the rest of it. (The people he does his best to avoid thinking about. The people he desperately hopes figured out what it takes to be happy. The people he knows he’ll have to stop himself from sending a copy of his book to.) He just needs more time.